Gitxsan Hereditary Chief Elmer Derrick has passed away.
At 69 years old, Derrick died peacefully with members of his family around him at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, on Friday, Sept. 22.
Derrick was actively involved over the years on several board of directors, including BC Hydro, Gitxsan Resources Trust, and Ridley Island Terminals Inc. for three years. In 2012 he was appointed by the federal government to serve on the board of directors at the Prince Rupert Port Authority.
Following Derrick’s passing, chair of the port authority, Bud Smith, issued a statement:
“It is with great sadness that we recognize the passing of our fellow board member, colleague and friend, Elmer Derrick. During his five-years as a director of the Prince Rupert Port Authority, Elmer provided leadership and governance of our organization that was critical to the growth of our port and the prosperity of the communities in which it operates. He advocated strongly for the balanced approach we take to enabling trade and safeguarding the environment, and he was proud of the investments we’ve made to improve the quality of life for people across Northwest British Columbia. He will be remembered fondly by everyone at the Prince Rupert Port Authority, and our thoughts are with his family as they mourn his death and celebrate his life,” Smith said.
Derrick was also an instrumental figure in the campaign to electrify the Hwy. 37 corridor. Co-chair of a lobby group pushing for the Northwest Transmission Line, his experience as a board director for BC Hydro gave him the insight to advocate with authority. The 344-kilometre, 287-kilovolt transmission line between Skeena Substation (near Terrace) to a new substation near Bob Quinn Lake was completed in 2014. The $746-million project had an undeniable impact on the lives of residents, and remains a backbone for resource development in the north, providing a reliable supply of clean power and a secure interconnection point for clean generation projects. Derrick was the first to promote the line’s extension even further to Iskut, saying “My priority is to get it as far north as possible.” Imperial Metals, not BC Hydro, saw that vision to fruition in December 2014 with 93 additional kilometres of line to a new substation at Tatogga Lake.
In 2009, as chief land claims negotiator for the Gitxsan Treaty Society, Derrick sparked controversy and protests in the community by signing an economic benefits deal with Enbridge Inc. and its Northern Gateway pipeline. Worth an estimated $7 million to the Gitxsan, the signing marked the first time a First Nations group backed Enbridge’s plan to send oil from Alberta to a marine export terminal in Kitimat.
Having signed the agreement behind closed doors, Derrick held firm that none of the chiefs from 65 Gitxsan houses opposed the deal, giving him the power to sign as chief negotiator. He said at the time his only regret was for the threats his family received for his actions.
The pipeline was later rejected by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in April 2017.
Derrick had taught political science and economics at the Northwest Community College, and he had a bachelor degree in education from the University of Alberta and a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Carleton University.
With files from Shannon Lough